October is garlic-planting time in many areas of the country. Garlic is one of the easiest crops to grow, and since the planting time coincides with school schedules, it’s a great crop to use in the school garden. The first activity you’ll want to do with kids is to discuss how garlic grows. While most vegetables are planted in spring for a summer and fall harvest in most areas of the country, garlic is different. Explain that garlic needs a cool period to grow and form its bulbs. That’s why it’s planted in fall. It’s a tough plant and will even survive the bitter cold of northern regions if properly protected.
Garlic is also unique because you grow new plants from old plants. Ask the kids what other vegetables grow in a similar fashion. (Potatoes are one example.) Take apart a garlic bulb in class and explain that each clove will be planted in the ground to produce a new bulb. Talk about the different types of garlic: hardneck, softneck, and elephant. Hardneck varieties form edible scapes or curlicues in summer, softneck varieties are used for braiding, and elephant garlic forms the largest bulbs. Hand out bulbs to groups of children and ask them to calculate how many new bulbs will be produced from their bulbs. Talk about how large cloves will yield large bulbs.
Finally, it’s time to plant. Explain that poorly drained soil is the biggest problem for garlic. Have the kids build raised beds, add compost to the top of the bed, turn it under, and level it out. Have the kids plant garlic cloves a few inches deep and about 6 to 8 inches apart in rows. Water well. Ask what else they might need to do to care for their garlic. In cold areas, a winter cover will help protect the bulbs from heaving out of the ground as it freezes and thaws. In late fall, add a 6-inch-thick layer of straw to protect the bulbs. Explain that adding it too early provides a home for voles that might nibble on the overwintering garlic cloves.